Can I Make a Stain Conditioner for My Shelf Project?

I am fairly new to woodworking and am building storage shelves made out of 2×4 that I have milled down to nicer dimensions. The stand-up support systems are ready to be stained, but here is where I need help. I have a container of mineral spirits and a container of Minwax® golden pecan. Naturally, they want me to pretreat the wood with one of their products. Can I make a conditioner to minimize blotching by mixing the mineral spirits and the stain together, apply that first, and then follow up with just the stain? Would I need to sand between all the coats? These shelves don’t have to be stained, but I thought this would be a good place to start. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated. – Clay Stapleton

Tim Inman: Test, test, test. Making a dilute solution of the stain and thinner can be a great way to start. You do not need a ‘conditioner’ except to control the staining. That’s all it does. So, I’d start on a scrap of the same wood, and try things out. Observe! A little stain in a lot of thinner often makes the nicest effect. You can always add color in a second or third application, but like salt in the soup, it is hard to get out once you’ve put it in. Go gently, and test first. Test, test, test…

Chris Marshall: Clay, on a storage shelf project, I’d skip the stain altogether. Two by fours are always a species of pine or fir, and it’s prone to blotching even with a conditioner applied. Pigments in the stain will soak into those softer areas of the wood fiber and make them stick out like sore thumbs. If the wood is basically all a uniform color already, think about just going with a clear finish instead. Then, as the wood ages, it will darken some on its own and take on a natural patina without stain. You’ll get the best of the wood’s natural beauty and none of the blotching. In terms of clear finish options, you could use an oil-based polyurethane, which will give the wood a slightly amber tone. You could apply a few coats of dewaxed shellac, such as Zinsser’s SealCoat™, which dries quickly but imparts almost no color at all. Or spray on some clear lacquer, which also dries clear and very quickly. These options will help protect the wood and give the project a “finished” look without any risk of discoloration. That’s what I’d do here.

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